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Home » Features » Articles » Citizen-scientist flight attendant shared New Horizons arrival to Pluto!
Credit; NASA
Credit; NASA

Citizen-scientist flight attendant shared New Horizons arrival to Pluto!

by Renee’ A. Douglass

(Editor’s note: I had the pleasure of meeting Renee’ Douglass via Facebook as part of the StarTalk online community. We had the chance to meet face to face at the winter StarTalk Saturnalia party via StarTalk’s Patreon rewards. I HIGHLY recommend anyone joining that community as I have met some of the most amazing people there. Check out Renee’s story below and say hello to her on her Facebook page! She loves science enthusiasts! – Ron S.)

As a Flight Attendant and a space science enthusiast, I had an opportunity to teach the flying public about the New Horizons Pluto fly-by. During my flight on July 14, 2015, I waited until the appropriate moment. With notes I had written on the back of my Passenger Count Form pad–notes taken from information posted on the New Horizons online NASA pages–I prepared myself. At the two minute countdown mark, from the aft Inter-phone, I made this announcement:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement. I’m sorry if I’m waking anyone up, but a Historic moment is upon us.

On January 19, 2006 at 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time, we, the people of Earth, launched the New Horizons spacecraft, with destination: Pluto, and the other Kuiper belt objects. Pluto has since been demoted from planet to dwarf planet, but that doesn’t diminish our excitement that in approximately two minutes, on July 14, at precisely 7:49 and 57 seconds Eastern standard time, New Horizons will reach its closest approach to Pluto. Until now, Pluto has been nothing but a gray blob in our Science texts books. Now we have photographs. Plus, a lot more data is being retrieved and analyzed. Through this mission, we learned that Pluto has an atmosphere and many other facts.

Renee on a plane!

The New Horizons spacecraft set the world record for fastest launch at 36,373 mph, which is approximately 100 times what our jet is currently doing. With the gravity slingshots, New Horizons has sped up from 36,000 mph to now 16,260 miles PER SECOND! Traveling to Pluto is like making 32 trips from the Earth to the Sun and back.

The mission will continue to explore other Kuiper belt objects and is expected to end in 2026.

If you have a smart phone, once we land, you can download the free NASA TV app and watch the On Demand Pluto Palooza Party if you’d like. Also, once again, until now, we’ve only been able to see Pluto as a gray fuzzy sphere. I have updated pictures of Pluto and it’s moon Charon right now on my phone. These pictures are from days ago. I’ll be walking through the cabin to show them to EVERYBODY who is interested to see. Within the next day or so, we expect even better, more detailed pictures, so be on the lookout…And GO PLUTO!!!

Starting from the rear of the cabin, I began walking through, stopping at each row. Passengers were mostly very receptive. There were a few businessmen who seemed annoyed, but everyone else was excited and thankful for my announcement. “Meet Pluto!” Some passengers were full of questions which I tried to answer to the best of my knowledge. Also the photo at the top of the page is the one I passed around to the passengers (Remember, the data containing the famous Pluto “Heart” photo had not yet been received by NH Scientists)!

Renee and Neil deGrasse Tyson at the StarTalk Saturnalia Party via StarTalk’s Patreon!

When I got to about a third of the way through the cabin, I reached a pilot who was riding along with us. He was seated in a window seat. He asked me if I realized that we just flew over Kennedy Space Center as I was doing my announcement, which means as New Horizons flew by Pluto, we flew over its place of origin!

What an exciting connection it was for me! I am always grateful for the opportunity to spread scientific excitement, curiosity, knowledge, and awareness!

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